MVP Pondexter Leads Mercury to First WNBA Title
Phoenix 108, Detroit 92
AUBURN HILLS, Mich., Sept. 17 (AP) -- The tattoo on Cappie Pondexter's arm was inked when she was still in high school. It features the WNBA logo, and reads "The Future.''
That future is now for Pondexter and the Phoenix Mercury, who beat the Detroit Shock 108-92 on Sunday and wrapped up their first league title in the deciding Game 5 of the championship series.
A fast start helped Phoenix become the first team in the WNBA's 11-year history to claim the title on the road. Pondexter, in her second year in the league, scored 26 points and was chosen as the series MVP.
"It's been a long time coming,'' said Pondexter, who didn't win an NCAA championship while at Rutgers. "It's something I've been waiting for, working hard for, and it's finally here.''
Penny Taylor scored 30 points and Diana Taurasi had 17 for the Mercury.
The Shock lost the last two games of the series, ending their bid to win back-to-back titles. Detroit also won the champion in 2003.
"This is an unfamiliar position - being up here without a bottle of champagne,'' Detroit coach Bill Laimbeer said as he opened his postgame news conference. "We got beat by a team that was hungrier.''
Deanna Nolan, who led the Shock with 27 points, said the team's defense faltered early.
"Them making shots was part of it, but our defense wasn't there, and we didn't get key rebounds,'' Nolan said.
Phoenix took some steam out of the home crowd, announced at more than 22,000, by spurting to a 20-9 lead midway through the first quarter. Taurasi had eight points, including two 3-pointers, in that stretch.
"We were due for a great game,'' Taurasi said. "Everything we focused on all season kind of came into play.''
The Mercury led by as many as 18 points in the second quarter and led 55-43 at halftime. The teams set a finals scoring record for combined points in a half.
Pondexter had 10 assists Sunday and made several key baskets in the second half to squash any hopes of a Detroit comeback.
The Shock were the top seed in the WNBA's Eastern Conference, while Phoenix was seeded No. 1 in the West.
The tight series was an entertaining contrast of styles. Phoenix, the WNBA's top-scoring team, paid no attention to the shot clock in coach Paul Westhead's run-and-gun system.
Westhead also won an NBA title as coach of the Los Angeles Lakers in 1980.
"My players 27 years ago didn't worry about spraying me,'' Westhead said. "Today, everyone was gunning for me.''
The early start was crucial, Westhead said.
"We put ourselves in a great position,'' he said. "You're hard to beat scoring like that.''
Detroit is more defensive-minded, and Laimbeer urged the Shock to be more patient and physical several times during the series.
But the large deficit quickly took Detroit out of its game. The Mercury's smallest lead in the second half was nine points.
Katie Smith had 18 points for Detroit, which committed 17 turnovers compared to only nine for the Mercury.